Mark Sawoski’s legacy

Beloved international relations professor passes away at 67


Courtesy of David Moskowitz

Dr. Mark Sawoski was very involved with his students. He is pictured here at a senior research presentation a few years ago.

On March 9, Professor of International Relations Mark Sawoski shared his expertise on the Russian invasion of Ukraine and what is at stake for the rest of the world in an easy-to-follow virtual presentation watched by the campus and Bristol communities.

Three days later Sawoski, 67, died suddenly at his home in Little Compton. His death was confirmed in an announcement by University President Ioannis Miaoulis and Provost Margaret Everett.

His colleagues and students fondly remember Sawoski for his way of explaining complex material in an engaging and effective manner.

“Mark had a gift and that gift was to be able to enchant students for 50 minutes,” said Professor June Speakman, a long-time friend of Sawoski.

“Students would often report to me that they took 12 pages of notes in Sawoski’s class, that they were never bored for a minute, and that they loved it.”

Speakman recalls that he made her a better teacher.

“He taught me about teaching. He taught me students can learn from traditional lecturing.”

During his 35 years at the university, he helped create the international relations major and its curriculum. Previously, students with an interest in global affairs could only major in political science.

Political Science professor Steve Esons said Sawoski also helped RWU Model UN teams achieve award status by passing on his skills as an international negotiator.

RWU alumni Noah Ashe took Sawoski’s international relations course and said a memorable experience of the course was the simulation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict where students had a role and had to stay in character.

“Unfortunately, I chose to be the supreme leader of Iran and I was kicked out of those negotiations because if it’s one thing they agreed on and maybe the only thing they agreed on it was they did not Iran present at these negotiations,” said Ashe.

“I remember I had gone to the bathroom and I walked back into the King of Saudi Arabia telling me ‘We’re so happy that you’ve arrived. We’re actually working on a resolution right now to kick you out of the negotiations.’”

“He really cultivated an environment where all of us took this assignment seriously so we were all in character from the moment that we walked into the classroom,” said Ashe.

Sawoski had real life experience with international relations that he could bring to the classroom. He served during the Carter administration for the Department of State while in graduate school, then in the Office of the Secretary of Defense during the Clinton administration for three and a half years, according to Speakman.

“His most important contribution there was his participation in the Dayton Peace Accords, to bring peace to the Balkans,” said Speakman. “Mark helped with the drawing of the maps that underlay those peace accords.”

DPIR Chair Joseph Roberts said Sawoski would be remembered for his kindness and generosity with his time. When Sawoski interviewed Roberts for his position they drove around Rhode Island after a Nor’easter for six hours conversing.

Speakman said when she was interviewed, Mark took time out of his service in Washington to pick her up at the airport and take her to Bristol. As for his students, Ashe said Sawoski had an open door policy where students could talk to him about anything.

Outside the classroom, Sawoski also served as the chairman of the Little Compton Zoning Board of Review. He enjoyed reading, cooking, spending time with friends and family, the New York Yankees and sailing.

“He both made me want to be a sailor and not be a sailor, usually in the same conversation,” said Roberts. “He would talk about his sailboat and that would make me want to be a sailor and the next minute he talked about some problem with it and that would make me not want to be a sailor.”

Ashe said Sawoski was one of the nicest people you could meet.

“It’s truly heartbreaking that someone I know and care about is no longer here with us,” said Ashe.

He is survived by his wife Susan, son Matthew and daughter Catherine.

The university has established the Professor Mark Sawoski Memorial Scholarship at the request of his family for students interested in studying international relations.

A celebration of life will be hosted by the DPIR on Monday, April 11 at 4 p.m. in the Sailing Center and all are welcome.